with carrying it into battle was called the chaplain
or cloak bearer. Chaplain comes from the French
word chapete a short cloak. Later, priests or
chaplains, rather than field officers, were charged
with the care of the sacred cloak.
Chaplains served aboard warships of many
nations. In the British and American Navies they
collected 4 pence per month from each member
of the crew. In return, they rewarded every
seaman who learned a psalm by giving him 6
Besides holding divine services, chaplains were
charged with the instruction of midshipmen and
the moral guidance of officers and enlisted alike.
It wasnt until the eighteenth century that
chaplains were permitted to dine in the wardroom.
Previously, they dined in their own cabins,
although they were frequently invited to dine with
The second article of Navy Regulations was
adopted by the Continental Congress on 28
November 1775. This article made provision for
divine services afloat. We quote from the article:
The Commander of the ships of the
thirteen United Colonies are to take care
that divine services be performed twice a
day on board, and a sermon preached on
Sundays, unless bad weather or other ex-
traordinary accidents prevent.
Although chaplains are not specifically mentioned
in this article, it is obvious that Congress intended
that the clergy be placed on board naval vessels
to conduct worship services.
A Congregational minister, the Reverend
Edwards Brooks, was the first chaplain to serve
in the Continental Navy. He reported aboard USS
Hancock in the spring of 1777 and was subse-
quently captured by the British in May 1777.
Sometime later he was exchanged for a captured
The Reverend William Balch was commis-
sioned a chaplain in the United States Navy on
30 October 1799. He is considered to be the first
commissioned chaplain of the United States Navy.
However, there is clear evidence that William
Austin was serving as a chaplain without a
commission aboard USS Constitution nearly a
year before Reverend William Balch reported for
duty. Since the practice of using unordained men
as chaplains was common in the early days of the
Navy, it is not known whether Mr. Austin was
an ordained minister. However, since he per-
formed duties as a chaplain and was listed in the
official records of the ship, it appears that the
distinction of being the first United States Navy
chaplain belongs to him.
During this period, Navy chaplains were
expected to serve as teachers of various subjects
as well as to perform ministerial functions. In
answer to an inquiry made by a member of
Congress regarding the duties of a Navy chaplain,
on 21 February 1811, the Secretary of the Navy
wrote the following:
The duties of a chaplain in the Navy are
to read prayers at stated periods; to
perform all funeral ceremonies; to lecture
or preach to the crew on Sundays; to
instruct the midshipmen and volunteers
in writing, arithmetic, navigation, and
lunar observations, and when required, to
teach other youths of the ship.
This statement summarizes the regulations that
were set forth in 1802. Therefore, it is obvious
that the main burden of preparing junior officers
for their future duties rested upon chaplains. This
trend continued until the government established
the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845.
After the establishment of the Naval
Academy, chaplains began to devote more atten-
tion to their ministerial duties and less to teaching
midshipmen. However, the regulations of 1939
shown in figure 1-2 clearly indicate that the
chaplain was expected to assist personnel who
were deficient in certain academic subjects (item
5 in the figure). The duties of the chaplain were
not significantly modified during World War II.
Navy chaplains have distinguished themselves
in several professional areas throughout United
States history. The foregoing account shows the
importance that has been placed on the chaplaincy
in the Navy.
Three correspondence courses provide a
detailed history of the Chaplain Corps. They are
History of the Chaplain Corps, Part I, which
presents the history of the Chaplain Corps from
the days of the Continental Navy to 8 September
1939; History of the Chaplain Corps, Part II,
which continues the history of the Chaplain Corps
through 1949; and History of the Chaplain Corps,
Part III, which presents the history of the
Chaplain Corps during the Korean War. The per-
sonnel in the commands educational services
office will order these courses upon request.